Book Review - To Train Up A Child

As a prelude to welcoming our new little blessing into our home I have decided to read some books on child discipline. Some I have had on the shelf for a time and some I have borrowed from friends. The first book I chose was To Train Up A Child by Michael & Debi Pearl. This book has been given some flack in the media recently and I had heard mixed reviews about. My husband (who has read it) didn’t care too much for it personally, but I wanted to see for myself what the fuss was all about.

There were many of the practical aspects of the book that I agreed with. For example, disciplining your children before there is a huge problem and you are upset and angry just seemed like good advice to me. However, there were also quite a few practical things that I would not agree with, nor was everything something that would be wise to apply to every family in a broad method. Many of the principles I agreed with, but could not see me or my husband implementing the Pearl’s particular method of applying the principle.

The biggest surprise for me was the underlying Biblical reasons for the Pearls’ method of discipline. Michael states many times in the early chapters that what the parent is doing with his or her young toddler is training, not discipline. He does not advocate discipline until the child is older. What he fails to define is the difference between “training” and “discipline.” Both involve spankings, though the “discipline” spanking is much more severe. At first I was confused by this need to differentiate between the two. To me both seemed to be “discipline.” If your child disobeys you, then you are disciplining him seems like the logical conclusion to me. Pearl’s second chapter finally explained to me why he felt it necessary to make this distinction (although he still does not give definitions for the two words). According to Pearl, a child is born innocent and sinless. He acquiesces to the scripture that children “go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies” (Psalm 58:3), but then asserts (with no scripture back up) that “God does not impute the lie to them as sin.” Thus, because he believes that the small child cannot sin, the parent cannot “discipline” them. However, he knows in his gut that they need to be disciplined, so instead he calls it “training.” The foundation of his whole method is boiled down into this statement. “Before [the child] can decide to do good, his parents must condition him to do good.” This is why so much of his book is dedicated to conditioning the child to obey. I am very uncomfortable with this sort of terminology. Our children are not simply animals that have been blessed with the ability to choose between good and evil at some point in their life (as Pearl’s many comparisons to animal training indicate that this is where his thinking tends). Our children are children of God and they are sinners from birth. They can be disciplined for sin while still young. Yes, they need training, but not conditioning.

To sum up, though the book is not all bad, I heartily disagree with the underlying premise. Because of this, I really don’t see much use for this book in our raising of our children. Hopefully, the next book I read will be much more insightful.


  • hey, rachel. it's nice to have so much time to read, eh? :)

    i hear you about the wacky pearl theology. i don't understand why that's not an immediate turn-off for people.

    i also think that the behavioristic methods are appalling -- we're talking about human beings, here! not only that, but fellow covenant heirs! i can't imagine treating any weaker brother in such a way as the pearls suggest, let alone an infant.

    tulip girl has a plethora of links and articles on her site critiquing the pearls' methods, as well as more positive resources for child training and discipline. check it out . . .

    the best discipline book i've read is clay clarkson's "heartfelt discipline." you've got time to read it! :)

    By Blogger greenemama, at 7:21 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Freeman Shepherd, at 4:22 PM  

  • I decided that to leave a comment the way I did wasn't the best I could do, so...I appologize for all of that. I see that we do differ somewhat on what we see in this book. Anyway, I'll be thinking on what you've said and the result will be that I'll have a better blog on this subject in the near future. Thanks!:-)

    By Blogger Freeman Shepherd, at 9:44 PM  

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